Can You Tell Which Of These Job Interview Questions Are Illegal?

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By Aaron Taube

Job interviews are stressful and difficult, even when employers are following the law.

But many seemingly innocuous and common interview questions, like "Do you have any kids?" can be illegal or put you at risk of being discriminated against.

While every state has different laws regarding job interviews - some specifically prohibit certain questions, while others merely prohibit discrimination based on their answers - it's important to be on your toes and know what employers can and can't do.

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Can You Tell Which Of These Job Interview Questions Are Illegal?
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Can You Tell Which Of These Job Interview Questions Are Illegal?

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

Some states prohibit employers from asking about applicants' criminal history unless the crime is directly related to the job they are interviewing for.

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

Some states, like New York, explicitly ban questions about marital status during the interview process. In states where the question is not explicitly prohibited, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which brings lawsuits against employers on behalf of workers, still advises against it because marital status is often used to discriminate against female employees, which violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

Knowing what languages a candidate is proficient in is useful information for just about any job.

Where employers can go wrong is by asking what a person's first language is, which can be construed as asking their nation of origin.

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

Some states outlaw this question completely. In others, it can get employers in hot water because religious discrimination is illegal across the U.S.

The federal government doesn't specifically forbid questions about religion, but those questions could be used as evidence of intent to discriminate, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

While it varies state to state whether you can ask this question, doing so could be conceived as being another way of asking about someone's nationality. And discriminating based on nationality is illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

Asking about alcohol is tricky. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that it is okay to simply ask whether a person drinks alcohol.

However, asking a question about alcohol that is likely to reveal whether someone is an alcoholic, like, "How often do you drink?" and "Have you ever attended an alcohol abuse class?" could show that the employer is discriminating against alcoholics.

Doing so would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which classifies alcoholism as a disability.

A) Always illegal.

B) Could be illegal.

C) Never illegal.

Some states ban this question outright.

In states that do not explicitly ban asking applicants about their age, the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employers from age-based discrimination toward anyone over the age of 40. And asking about someone's age can give the impression of discrimination.

A better question to ask is how long someone has been in a particular job or industry.

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